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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 29, Issue 2, 2001

Eero Tarasti
Pages 657-681

Metaphors of nature and organicism in the epistemology of music
A "biosemiotic" introduction to the analysis of Jean Sibelius' symphonic thought

Metaphors of nature and organism play a central role in the epistemes of the Western culture and arts. The entire project of the 'modern' meant a separation of man from the cosmos and its laws. Signs and symbols are thought to be arbitrary and conventional social constructions. However, there are many returns to iconic imitations of nature and biological principles also in such an esoteric art as music. One of the highest aesthetic categories in Western art music is the so-called 'organic growth' which particularly manifests in symphony. The concepts of 'organic/inorganic' can be used as analytic terms, whereby one might even compare such composers as Jean Sibelius and Gustav Mahler. Music is said to be 'organic' when (I) its theme actors live in their proper Umwelt (or isotopy); (2) all music material stems from the same themes (it is innerly iconic); (3) all musical events follow each other coherently (inner indexicality or the principle of Growth); (4) music strives for some goal (temporality). Moreover the Ueküll idea of a particular lch-Ton of every organism can be turned back to music. Hence we can say that every musical piece is like an 'organism' which has its lch-Ton detennining which signs it accepts and how it acts in the musical environment of its own and formed by other musical works.

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